This frantic, antic-filled animated movie answers a question that nobody outside Hollywood has ever thought to ask: What if Mel Brooks had directed Kung Fu Panda?
It also asks - and satisfactorily answers - the question: can master swearer Samuel L. Jackson lend his voice to a kiddie cartoon while staying resolutely on brand?
More on the latter later, but first to this movie's unlikely provenance.
Produced under the Nickelodeon Movies banner, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is a school holidays time-filler with lashings of slapstick biff, piles of corny shtick and fart jokes coming out of its puns. Like the other animation now showing in cinemas, DC League of Super-Pets, it has a doggie theme, big-name voices and a quota of jokes aimed over the heads of kids. It carries the same PG rating but feels more vulgar and violent.
The voice cast is led by Jackson (of Pulp Fiction fame), Ricky Gervais (The Office) and Michael Cera (TV's Arrested Development) - each bringing their trademark tone, namely swagger, snark and sweetness, respectively.
Cera is softly spoken beagle Hank, an intruder in an ancient Japan-like land populated only by cats. Gervais is scheming cat lord Ika Chu, who appoints hapless Hank the resident guardian samurai of a local village he's plotting to destroy.
Except Hank thrives with the help of washed-up ex-samurai Jimbo (Jackson), who teaches the young dog new tricks. This will, of course, require a training montage, and a joke about a training montage.
So far, so Kung Fu Panda, as we barrel through groan-worthy hairball jokes, winking film references and bursts of Looney Tunesesque sword-swishing violence. Then a horse is punched in the head and a generous serving of baked beans ignites an explosion of flagrant flatulence not seen since the 1974 Western comedy Blazing Saddles busted out its now-famous campfire scene.
It turns out directors Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey have based their film on the classic Brooks satire. Screenwriters Ed Stone and Nate Hopper actually share their credit with the five original writers of Blazing Saddles, including Brooks and the late Richard Pryor.
With 96-year-old Brooks listed as a producer and lending his trademark rasp as a wise, wisecracking shogun, Paws of Fury swaps his movie's black-sheriff-in-a-white-town scenario for a canine-samurai-in-a-feline-town set-up. It plays like every fish-out-of-water/underdog-has-his-day story your kids have already seen.
The martial-arts spoofing has its ticklish moments, the visual style is Zootopia-slick and there's the feisty saucer-eyed kitten Emiko to bring Hello Kitty cuteness.
But the action mayhem at times takes the traditional slapstick violence of Tom and Jerry and Road Runner versus Wile E. Coyote to extremes, which along with the potty jokes might come on too strong for some littles and their chaperones.
As for being a sort-of-remake of Blazing Saddles, while it's a clever conceit, the convoluted concept never really hits the mark. Almost 50 years after the satirical bravado and bawdiness of Brooks blew adults away, Paws of Fury's homage probably isn't worth a hill of baked beans to most parents now.
Borrowing from sensei Jackson's PG-rated cussing, they might even ask themselves: "What the mother-father cocker-spaniel's going on here?!"
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